Paean for Pig

Sweet & Spicy Ribs

Yesterday, we decided to prepare a small feast to kick off 2007 Chinese New Year, the Year of the Pig, mostly because T and I had a hankering for a little side o’ pork. I’m pretty sure baby back ribs aren’t one of the traditional symbolic good luck foods associated with Chinese New Year. If we’ve trashed our shot at happiness and prosperity this year, we have only our pork passion to blame.

My daughter A has a thing for pigs; specifically a whimsical creature called the Flying Pig. I’m not sure how she developed this attraction. All I know is that her collection of winged, fluffy pink pig iconography seems to be growing by the day, along with, I might add, a growing sensitivity toward the eating of pigs or any other cute farm animal. I’m afraid we have a budding vegetarian in our midst. Which is interesting, considering how my kids lust after meat.

She didn’t have any problem inhaling these ribs though. The recipe comes from Steven Raichlen’s book Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs. I’ve made a few things from it, and I have to conclude that the man is a genius. The sauce is perfectly salty-sweet and tangy.

To round out the meal, I stir-fried some mushrooms and Chinese broccoli, otherwise known as gai lan. It’s one of my favorite greens, which I’ll tell you more about later.

Chinatown Ribs

Adapted from Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs by Steven Raichlen
Feeds four to six

5 pounds baby back pork ribs (2 racks should do it)
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, sake or white wine
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
5 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a heavy knife
5 thin slices peeled ginger, smashed with the side of a heavy knife
3 green onions, white and light green parts thinly sliced

Arrange the ribs in a large pan or baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients until the sugar is dissolved.
Set aside a scant 1/2 cup of the mixture; pour the rest over the ribs, turning them to coat evenly.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours, the longer the better.
Set up a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling, or heat your oven to 350 degrees. Place on the grill rack (or a shallow baking sheet if cooking in the oven), bone side down. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until the ribs are dark brown, crisp, and the meat is tender enough to pull off the bone with your fingers.

Place the reserved marinade in a small saucepan and simmer for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to serve alongside the ribs.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Friday Night Home Date – Tender is the Lamb

Braised Lamb for Two

Now that we are smack-dab in the middle of winter, I’m totally in the mood to eat tender, slow-cooked meat that falls right off the bone.

There’s no better method than braising to cozy up the kitchen and get the house smelling delicious. And what’s especially nice about this technique is that dinner takes care of itself in the oven while I relax in the other room with a book. I love that.

Moroccan Braised Lamb with Toasted Almond-Apricot Couscous
Start this the night before – but no big deal! All you have to do is season the lamb, and let it sit in the refrigerator. This will make two generous portions – enough to share with a few little ones.

2 meaty lamb shanks (ask for cuts from the hind legs – they’re meatier than the forelegs)
1 tablespoon each ground cumin, coriander and curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
1 small minced garlic clove
5 tablespoons olive oil, give or take
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Toasted Almond Couscous:
1 cup couscous
2 cups chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
4 chopped green onions
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons softened butter

Trim off excess fat from the lamb and place in a shallow baking dish. Make a paste by combining the spices, salt, pepper, garlic and 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Smear all over the lamb; cover the dish and refrigerate overnight (or do this in the morning and chill for 6 hours).

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the lamb all over, about 5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and wipe the pot clean of any blackened spices.

Add the remaining oil, carrot, onion, garlic and ginger to the pan and cook until softened and lightly golden brown, stirring once in a while. Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook for one minute before adding the wine. Let the wine bubble away to about 2 tablespoons, then return the lamb to the pan. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a sheet of parchment paper or foil, put a lid on it, and transfer the whole thing to the oven.

Cook 1 hour; turn the shanks over, replace the cover and continue cooking for another hour, or until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the lamb to a covered plate. Strain the contents of the pot into a small saucepan, straining any fat that rises to the surface. Bring to a boil on the stovetop, and reduce to about 3/4 cup. Taste it for seasoning.

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, make the couscous:
Heat a 10-inch non stick skillet over medium-high heat. Put the couscous in the pan and toast until golden brown, shaking or stirring the pan occasionally. Add the chicken stock, salt and apricots. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and cover until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Stir in the green onions, almonds and butter.

Serve the lamb on top of the couscous, with some warm sauce spooned over.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Sweet Hearts

Sugar Cookie Jam Hearts

A long time ago and very far away, I fell in love with food. I spent my free time at the public library or bookstore, studying cookbooks on every topic, and wouldn’t hesitate at the idea of spending my entire weekend shopping for ingredients and cooking. I’d happily lose myself in the process of preparing a duck confit, cultivating a sourdough starter, or building the layers of a fancy cake.

That was before, and this is now. Now my life is mostly about parenting, so by necessity it’s all about multitasking. Right now, as I write this, my daughter is breathing over my shoulder, the phone is ringing, and my son is requiring some chocolate milk.

I have to steal time to read cookbooks, and sometimes manage to carry out my plans to cook something that requires hours of advance prep. But mostly, because I’m not the girl I used to be, I’ve also had to reconcile myself to using some store-bought products that help make my desire to cook something a reality rather than pure fantasy. I just make sure the ingredient list is short and easy to pronounce – after all I am not Sandra Lee, people.

So yesterday – GASP – I pulled out a package of store-bought cookie mix so that during one free hour of our day, we made some Valentine treats for the kids’ teachers. We made jam heart sandwich cookies with Betty Crocker cookie mix and some raspberry jam that I heated and strained. Sweet and easy.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food